View Full Version : Michael Neal

8/24/2005, 02:03 PM
Good story.

Wed August 24, 2005
Neal looking forward to future at Oklahoma (http://newsok.com/article/1590849/?template=sports/main)
By Justin Harper
The Oklahoman

NORMAN - It wasn't until the doctor informed Liz Neal that she should call the family together, get them to the hospital, that the magnitude of the situation set in.

"He said he didn't know if Mike was going to make it through the night," she said. "I just asked him one thing: 'Do I have hope?' I said as long as I have hope, we're going to be all right."

Michael Neal made it through the night. He made it through brain surgery. He made it through being abandoned by his school, and he made it through all the fear. And, eventually, he made it to the University of Oklahoma, where the 21-year-old guard from Mesquite, Texas, began fall classes Monday.

"It's been a strange road getting here," said the 6-foot-3 junior. "I'm putting everything that happened behind me. Because I've got a lot to look forward to now."

Neal isn't just talking about basketball, although the juco transfer from Lon Morris College, where he was a two-time NJCAA All-American, appears to have a bright future on the hardwood. But he sees a bigger picture than most his age.

"Adversity is many things to different people," said OU coach Kelvin Sampson. "You talk about adversity to Michael, you're talking about life and death. He's lucky to be here."

It will be three years in September when Neal's ordeal began. A freshman basketball player at Seminole State College, Neal skipped class one Friday afternoon with the worst headache he'd ever experienced.

"I just lied down in bed all weekend," he said. "My teammates would come check on me, and I'd tell them I didn't want to be bothered. The headache just got worse and worse, and my eyes started to swell up. So, I called my mom and told her I had never had a headache like this before. She called my coach and had him come over to check on me. He took one look at me and said, 'Good lord, we've got to get you to the hospital.'"

Neal wouldn't return to his own bed until almost three months later.

Then-Seminole basketball coach J.T. Locklear admitted Neal to a hospital where Neal was diagnosed with a nasal infection. It required surgery, but problems persisted. Eventually Neal was sent to the OU Medical Center in Oklahoma City, the very place Liz Neal was told she might lose the second of her five children, all of whom she raised by herself.

The infection had spread underneath his skull. Brain surgery was the only option.

"When they said brain surgery, the first thing I thought of was, 'Why does it have to be brain surgery? For a headache?'" Michael Neal said. "Then I thought about what would happen to me. What would I look like after all that? Would I be able to speak right or remember everything I used to? You just think a whole bunch of crazy stuff like that. I tried to stay positive, but negative thoughts came into my mind."

Just before the surgery, Neal had been unresponsive. Before he went under the knife, Liz sat at his bedside and asked him if he knew she was there.

"He squeezed my hand," she said. "I never told him what the doctor had said to me about calling the family in. I just told him we were going to be all right."

Mom was right. The surgery was a success, although an additional nasal surgery would follow shortly after.

Liz Neal left her job in Texas, rented a motel room near the hospital and stayed the better part of two months by Michael's side. At a cost of about $120 per day, she used up most her life's savings and tapped credit cards in the process. She brought him three meals a day, usually from Subway or Grandy's, but whenever she could she would make him a special chicken dish. She made infrequent same-day round-trips home to Mesquite, where three of her other four children were still in school and being looked after by her sister Jean.

As he recovered, Michael Neal was quiet. More than usual, which says a lot because Neal is a softspoken, gentle sort.

"It was like prison," Michael Neal said of his long hospital stay. "I couldn't do anything."

Liz tried to brighten her son the only way she knew how.

"I'd open up the blinds in the room," she said. "I'd say, 'Mike, there's still a world going on out there, and we need to get out in it. Sooner or later, we're going to get out of this hospital.'"

When he did, on Thanksgiving Day 2003, more bad news awaited. Locklear had resigned at Seminole and the new coach didn't have a place for Neal. Neal's weight had dipped from 188 to 152, and by the time he was told to find another place to play, it was late summer and options were few. Alas, Lon Morris College found a spot.

"I was so thankful for that," said Neal. "I didn't have any place to go."

Two standout seasons later, Neal went from not having a place at Seminole to being awarded a scholarship to OU.

"The mere fact that he is even playing, let alone playing as well as he did for us, is just amazing," said Lon Morris coach Dale Dotson. "He is truly lucky to be alive, and he knows it."

Considering what Neal went through, lucky isn't the first description that comes to mind.

"You would think all he went through, he'd be angry or feel sorry for himself," said Liz. "He never has said a word. Not about being sick, the surgeries, getting thrown out by that school, nothing. Michael is my pride and joy. He really is. He's just a peaceful person, and he won't let anything get him down."

You can only see it from inches away, but Neal has a constant reminder of his ordeal: a scar that stretches from ear to ear just above his forehead.

"People ask all the time," he said. "They say, 'Where'd you get that? You get in a fight?' I don't mind them asking. I'm kind of proud of it. It lets me know I got through it all."

8/24/2005, 03:19 PM
Incredible story from an impressive player.

From all accounts I've read, this kid's in range when he steps off the bus.

King Crimson
8/24/2005, 05:24 PM

8/24/2005, 08:14 PM
What a tough young man, and a good mother.

8/24/2005, 08:59 PM
Having been through brain surgery myself,I can fully understand the fear his mother felt .Mr.Neal and his Mom are very courageous souls. Anybody who can endure such a trial desrves to be called MR.